Part I

Part one, yeah!

Now, what’s going on here? To understand why this lady is so heartbroken about a two-night-stand that didn’t call her back we’ll have to take a peek at the Heian era wedding traditions among nobility.

A marriage was a political move, mostly decided between the parents. The whole procedure then began with the gentleman writing an artful and thought out letter to the lady describing his deep feelings and his unstoppable desire to know her love – even though he’d never met her before. The lady might answer with a similar letter or express her very ladylike shyness by not answering not at all but never mind, time for phase B.

The next step was the gentleman sneaking into the lady’s bedroom at night and sneaking out again before dawn without anybody noticing. This occurred for exactly three nights – preferentially in a row – until on the morning of the third night the gentleman accidentally failed to escape before dawn and was discovered by a maid, much to the surprise of the whole family. Mind you, this all happened in houses with walls of paper or very thin wood and the two were probably doing it like rabbits throughout the whole night, but still it was very important that everybody pretended not to notice anything. Now those two were officially married and a party with sake and rice cakes and often presents took place because nobility during Heian times loved a good party.

Now you understand how devastated the young lady must have felt because her lover, the Shônagon (which is a court rank not a name), broke off their engagement because obviously he found a better party, the Lady Sanjô (which is a street name, both terms were very common to describe a person).

The Heian era was a polygamous time, by the way, with a noble man being obligated to take two or more wives to demonstrate his political power and his wealth. Adultery among men as well as among women was very common, as was raging jealousy. Incest was wide spread as well and tolerated as long as they weren’t directly related such as brother and sister. Even though it is not directly mentioned in the literature and I have yet to read up on it, I’m pretty sure homosexual relations were wide spread as well.

A common conception about these first visits during courtship phase is that they were basically rape. That must have certainly been true for a number of the girls since they were often young, shy and saying no didn’t really impress the man. However, to automatically assume that every single young woman was raped on her first sexual encounter denies, in my opinion, the female sexuality entirely. These women were locked up in their homes 24/7, most of them never stepped outside, their feet never even touched the ground. They were lonely and they were bored to death. Nothing was left to them but to read contemporary love stories that were brimming with love, sex, adultery, desire and jealousy. They were young girls with a blossoming sexuality, dreaming all day about the steamy encounters their heroines experienced. (Women could very well read and write back then and they did so excessively. The Genji monogatari, written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu was basically the Fifty Shades of Grey of Heian times but longer and with more sex.) I can’t imagine that some of them weren’t relieved, when at last some guy turned up, writing them hot letters about his yearning for her, giving them a chance to escape the boredom of their everyday lives. At least, that’s what I with my limitless optimism would like to believe.

Something else that I find noteworthy – due to the courtship rules, that varied greatly from contemporary European courtship, technically the girl had her first sexual experience before her marriage. Sure, it was, like, two days before, but still the whole notion of „waiting patiently until my wedding night“ became somehow blurred. I like that.

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Chocho Monogatari, Part One

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